Miami Dolphins Playoff Scenarios and Chances: When Can the Dolphins Clinch?

The Miami Dolphins enter December as near-locks to return to the playoffs for the second time in as many years. But what about the No. 1 seed?

The Miami Dolphins‘ playoff scenarios are beginning to come into focus — and Week 13 will bring even more clarity.

The question at this point isn’t if the Dolphins will return to the postseason for the second straight year (they almost certainly will) but what seed they will end up with. With five games to play, they could finish the season anywhere in those seven spots.

When Can the Miami Dolphins Clinch a Playoff Spot?

The Dolphins, per ESPN, entered Week 13 at 98.6% to make the playoffs thanks to their FPI (7.2, sixth-best in football), their record (9-3), and their strength of remaining schedule (.507 entering Week 13, 16th-hardest in the NFL).

But the earliest they can clinch a playoff berth is Week 15 — via the the AFC East title. Their lead is bigger in the division than it is over the team currently in the No. 8 seed in the AFC — the Houston Texans.

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A win by the Dolphins over the Washington Commanders Sunday moves them to 9-3 for the first time since 2001.

The Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans are both 7-5 after beating the Tennessee Titans and Denver Broncos, respectively. However, the Colts move into the No. 7 seed in the AFC by virtue of owning the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Texans.

What Do the Dolphins Need To Clinch the AFC East?

Odds are, the Dolphins won’t need to contemplate Wild Card scenarios because they’re overwhelming favorites to win the AFC East (-2000 as of Thursday, per DraftKings).

That calculates out to a 95.2% implied probability — which is pretty spot on. Per ESPN, the Dolphins odds of claiming the division championship were 93.6% entering Week 13.

The only reason it isn’t higher? The Dolphins need to go into the last week of the season with at least a two-game lead over the Buffalo Bills (currently 6-6) to ensure that the Week 18 showdown between the two teams doesn’t become a division championship game. Buffalo has already beaten Miami once, and if the Dolphins’ lead is one game or less, the Bills would win the AFC East with a victory.

The good news for Miami? They are three games clear of the Bills with games against the Tennessee Titans and New York Jets in the next two weeks. After their Week 13 bye, the Bills face the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys — meaning 6-8 is a real possibility.

If that happens, and the Dolphins win one of their next two, the AFC East crown will reside in South Florida for the first time since 2008.

Can the Dolphins Still Get the No. 1 Seed?

Absolutely. But they’ll likely need a fair amount of help.

Even winning out — to get to 14-3 — is no sure bet due to the Dolphins’ Week 9 loss to the Chiefs (8-3).

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Any path to a first-round bye almost certainly involves beating the Titans, Jets, and Bills, plus the Baltimore Ravens (9-3, on a bye this week) on New Year’s Eve.

That would give the Dolphins 13 wins — which still might not be enough, given the Chiefs entered Week 13 with the NFL’s fourth-easiest remaining schedule (.397) and the 8-3 Jacksonville Jaguars have the eighth-easiest (.448).

The only loss Miami could probably survive over the last six weeks is to Dallas since it wouldn’t impact their conference record — a significant tiebreaker.

If the Dolphins win out, they would only need one loss by both Kansas City and Jacksonville over the season’s last month to claim the top seed in the AFC.

UPDATED (Dec. 4): The Packers did the Dolphins a huge favor by beating the Chiefs Sunday night. Through Sunday’s games, the Dolphins were the No. 1 seed in the AFC, although the Jaguars could claim that spot with a win over the Bengals Monday night.

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